Dangerous Cargo on Freight Trains Moving Through Indiana and Illinois: Risk of Fatal Train Accidents

Dangerous Cargo on Freight Trains Moving Through Indiana and Illinois: Risk of Fatal Train Accidents

Those who live and work near Valparaiso, Indiana, may remember lunchtime on a Friday afternoon back in 2012 when three CSX freight trains collided and derailed in a big train crash.  It was a terrifying event: lots of Hoosiers had to be rushed from their homes by local authorities.

Why?  The trains were carrying hazardous materials.  People had to be evacuated from the area for their own safety.

Fortunately, nothing exploded.  (There was a fire.)  No toxic fumes were released.  Everyone got to return home later that night, and only two railroad workers were injured in the entire ruckus.

For details, read the coverage provided by CBS on January 6, 2012, “Massive Train Accident, Fire in NW Indiana.”

Dangerous Cargo on Freight Trains

We’ve discussed the dangers of freight trains moving through our communities before.  See, e.g., “Oil Trains in Indiana and Illinois: How Big is the Danger to Railroad Workers?

In that post, we discussed the danger of tankers carrying tons of crude oil moving through Indiana and Illinois.  Of course, that oil is flammable.  Each tanker car can carry 70,000+ gallons of crude oil.

In 2015, a single railroad company was reporting 50 oil trains routed through Indiana and Illinois on a weekly basis.  Who thinks that the volume of oil train traffic has decreased in the past 24 months?

But tanker cars filled with crude oil isn’t the only railroad danger facing Indiana and Illinois.  There are all kinds of hazardous materials moving through our neighborhoods by rail all the time.

Hazardous Materials: HazMat Trains in Illinois and Indiana

Consider this.  Just a few weeks ago, there was another train crash in our part of the country where hazardous materials were being transported by rail through our neighborhoods.  Once again, we were blessed that this railroad crash did not turn into a human catastrophe.

On March 15, 2017, a 96-car Union Pacific train went off the rails (derailed).  It happened near Route 41 in Lake Forest early in the morning (around 3 a.m.), near the intersection with Deerpoint Road.

Officials reported that no tankers leaked any chemicals, and no one was injured.  It took a couple of days to clean up the accident scene and get the derailed cars out of the area.

What was the dangerous cargo in this train crash? Molten sulfur.  Think about how dangerous this incident was for anyone living or working in Lake Forest or just driving along Route 41 in Illinois during that time period. 

These two train crash examples (crude oil crash, molten sulfur crash) are far from the only railroad accidents involving hazardous materials in railcars here in Indiana and Illinois.

HazMat Rail Incidents Happen All the Time in Indiana and Illinois

According to the U.S. Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, there were 34 railway incidents where hazardous materials were exposed or released in the accident in Illinois during the four year time span covering 2012 to 2016.

The PHMSA online database shows that in 2016 alone, there were eight incidents in Indiana where hazardous material was released from a railroad freight car.  All but one of the incidents involved CSX Transportation as the carrier.

The hazardous materials in these 2016 Indiana incidents were as follows:

  1. Isobutene (01/28/16)
  2. Flammable liquids, n.o.s. (01/30/16)
  3. Methyl ethyl ketone (02/09/16)
  4. Petroleum gases, liquefied or liquefied petroleum gas (06/22/16)
  5. Toxic liquid, inorganic, n.o.s. (06/23/16)
  6. Propane (07/02/16)
  7. Liquefied petroleum gas (09/11/16)
  8. Sulfur, molten (12/27/16).

Of course, there is a growing concern over these hazardous materials being moved through populated areas of Indiana and Illinois.  See, “Hazmat traveling by train through suburbs raises concerns,” written by Marni Pyke and published by the Daily Herald on March 27, 2017.

Federal Investigations into Railroad Safety

The Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) is responsible for monitoring the safety of rail transport in our country.  Federal inspections by FRA agents take place in Indiana and Illinois along railroad lines.  They are especially concerned with dangerous situations like the oil train routes moving through our area.

And federal inspections are finding all sorts of problems with rail cars and railroad lines here in Indiana and Illinois.

Of particular concern: all these crude oil tanker cars that move across the country.  For more detail on these federal concerns, read “Thousands of defects found on oil train routes,” by Matthew Brown and published in the NWI Times on April 9, 2017.

Danger to Railroad Workers and the Public at Large

These toxic chemicals are being transported through our neighborhoods all the time.  Today, as you read this, there are hazardous and dangerous materials moving alongside roadways, schools, hospitals, stores, and homes on big, cumbersome railroad trains.

Railroad workers are vulnerable to all kinds of injuries and even death from exposure to the cargo carried on these trains.  Anyone who happens to be in close proximity to any rail accident involving a hazmat loaded train car is in danger of serious injury or death.

Right now, railway officials can point to the lack of any major incident or tragedy involving human death and claim that hazmat routes are safe enough for Indiana and Illinois.  However, considering the tallies of hazmat incidents reported, it’s prudent to suggest that we have all been very lucky so far.

The danger of a serious hazardous material accident involving train derailments or train collisions is real.  It’s serious.  And for many, the concern is that it is only a matter of time before lots of innocent people are going to be seriously and permanently hurt or killed in a hazmat train accident.


If you live or work or drive near a railroad track, then please be aware of the dangers involved in any hazardous material being transported along that route.  Be careful out there!

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